Posts Tagged ‘Judith Polley’

I am aiming to get myself back on track over the next few weeks, so expect to see a few random choices from the inheritance pile (of slightly thinner books!) as well as some more well-known tomes…  I will also warn you in advance that this post is really long due to book 26!

Book 25 – The Kings Shadow, by Judith Polley. This book follows Katherine Ashley, daughter of one of Cromwell’s finest commanders, whose fiance is killed by the Royalists in Worcester, in 1651.  She is told that Justin Douglas, the ‘King’s Shadow’ gave the order and a fierce hatred is born in her.  When she meets Douglas in an inn, she concocts a plan to lead him to his doom – but things go awry and soon she is his prisoner, faced with the truth of her fiance’s death, and beginning to trust the man she wanted dead.

This is a proper, 1970s, historical romance.  There is the tearing of clothes, the fainting, the cruel father, the vicious pursuer, the Stockholm Syndrome love.  It was absolutely full of all the tropes of the genre, and I think that’s why I find these books so much fun – as a writer I can see the gaping plot holes and the clichés, the systematic use of genre-specific characters (the beautiful heroine – tick; the brooding, misunderstood hero – tick; the violent and obsessive Other Man – tick; the distant and abusive father – tick; the jolly innkeeper’s wife – tick…) but as a reader I can dive in and escape from reality.

Katherine is brave and naive whereas Justin is brave and cynical, and the book rests on us believing these things.  Everything else requires suspension of disbelief!

This is not the kind of book you’d read if you were looking for a really literary offering, but it is enjoyable and readable, and that is perfectly fine for a summertime story!

I read this at the same time as:

Book 26 – Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn.  This review has major spoilers, so be warned… Part one: On their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick and Amy start the day with crepes.  By that afternoon, Amy is missing, and we follow the unfolding story of her disappearance, and Nick’s public demonisation.  Part Two: Amy is revealed to be alive, and the disappearance a sham to frame Nick.  Nick realises this, and starts to fight back.  Part three: Amy returns home and the two become trapped in the miasma of their mutual love/hate.

I really didn’t enjoy the book, although I appreciate its clever style and use of unreliable narrators.

In part one we are introduced to Amy through a series of diary entries, which show her to be a bubbly, happy, lovely, wonderful, scared, terrorised, panic-stricken woman (in turn).  I thought diary-Amy was a self-centred poser.  Everything about her screamed privilege, and she was incredibly annoying – oh, the trust fund was just enough to make me comfortable but not to make me lazy; oh, I write quizzes for a living using my psychology Masters but I am a REAL WRITER (caps lock appeared a lot)…  It was interesting to move on to psycho-crazy-murderous Amy after that, to see a more fully fleshed-out person. However, psycho-crazy-murderous Amy was both too clever – she’d thought of everything to implicate other people – and yet foolish enough to be manipulated into returning to Nick by a few well-chosen outfits and a couple of key words.

Part one Nick was also a self-centred poser, not to mention a cheat, a liar and an obnoxious idiot.    He had an affair, having dragged his wife away from everything she knew to care for his father (who he never saw) and his mother (who Amy spent a lot of time looking after once he used her trust fund remnants to buy a bar with his sister).  They rented a house, because Amy didn’t want to settle in his hometown – a compromise, he called it – and then he bought a business there anyway…  Part two Nick is a rage-fuelled, manipulative liar who dreams of killing his wife. and becomes steadily more unstable himself.

These characters are awful – and that’s what works brilliantly in this book.  I genuinely didn’t care who ‘won’ out of the two of them and I felt that Amy was treated shabbily by Nick.  For a writer to make the framed husband, who is ostensibly a ‘nice guy’, and the psychotic wife equally loathsome was incredibly clever.  I have such a strong reaction to both Amy, and to Nick, that writing about them makes me feel tense: that strength of reaction to any character is amazing, but to have it with two/three in the same book is an astounding writing feat.

A lot has been said about the ending, which I didn’t enjoy at the time.  In retrospect I think that too was a brilliant story-telling decision.  By the end of part three Nick was as unstable as Amy, and as trapped by her lies as she was: him trapped with her, and her trapped in a fake personality.  The ending highlighted to me that there was no way out for either of them, and that they had become the absolute opposite of the loving couple they were when they got married.  More, it highlighted that they had done it by choice.

I found it hard to get into, and I found it gruelling as a read – it is very dark, and I really don’t enjoy the style even as I appreciate the skill.  I will probably not read it again, but it was a masterclass in creating characters that are like barbs under your skin.

Happy reading,



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